• Sarah Ballan

Pain Relief: Cupping

Over the recent break I ran into my High School friend, Jade Somboonthum, on Thanksgiving Eve: the infamous night for run-ins with people from your past. Although 75% of my convos were slightly shallow ie - Hiiii how have you been since I saw you last Thanksgiving Eve? Shots?! - my talk with Jade was timely. Jade is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) who plans on opening his own practice (stay tuned!) I am thankful to have reconnected.

Tonight, Jade and his business partner, Sharine, came over to my NYC apartment, massage table in hand, and set up shop. The purpose of their visit: cupping.

Most physical therapy techniques are of the compressive nature and require applied pressure. Cupping, however, does the opposite: it uses suction to decompress problem areas. The art of cupping is an ancient eastern, alternative method of medicine. Essentially, a round, plastic (sometimes glass or even bamboo) cupping jar is placed on the skin and a pump is used to create a strong suction. You feel a small (or medium) pinch as your skin forms a small mound underneath the cup, and blood rushes to the area. Note: It’s quite freaky to look at because it can leave huge, hicky-like bruises all over your neck, arms, legs, etc.

Traditional cupping is passive and the suctions typically stay on your skin for 20 or so minutes. The goal is to improve mobility of soft tissue layers, and break up the knots formed due to stress and/or overuse. Jade and Sharine weren’t there to do traditional cupping. Instead, they practiced Myofascial Decompression (MFD), which is cupping on crack. MFD cupping is more active. This type of cupping only lasts around 3-5 minutes on each area, but instead of just letting the suctions sit there and suck, MFD incorporates movement patterns.

No body is perfect (ha ha). We all have small deficits and imbalances in certain areas. As a fitness instructor, I am constantly working out. Even though I stretch properly and foam roll obsessively, my body is still at risk for developing knots due to overuse of muscles. I sat on the table as they began their assessment to figure out my strength and range of motion in order to pinpoint problems. They started with palpitation, or pressing on different skin areas, looking for trigger points and knots. Aka bundles of tight muscle fibers that have fused together instead of forming familiar straight patterns. Once the issue(s) was located, the two DPTs placed the cups on my body following the path of muscle attachment. I looked like a science experiment. We went through a range of motions to loosen me up a bit.

Cupping is great for relieving lingering pain from a previous injury. As mentioned in my post, Sarah’s Spin Secrets, I have been injured (badly) due to working out incorrectly. I have endured two epidurals in my lower back. An epidural is a giant needle, filled with steroids, injected into your spine for a numbing effect - typically used to alleviate pain for pregnant women before going into labor. The minutes during which I was poked and prodded by that thick needle were excruciating, but the procedure greatly helped reduce my pain and inflammation. Unfortunately it was only a bandaid on a much deeper issue...

My problem stemmed from poor form on the spin bike, which translated to my uneven distribution of weight on the pedal strokes, leading to my being injured. It is in our nature to lead with our dominant leg, arm, or side. I needed to fix my form and strengthen my muscles. Since my steroidal injection, I have been practicing switching my lead leg in order to restore body balance and gain my strength back. MFD helps control your muscles and teaches you to move them efficiently and safely. If your form is correct, and your muscles are strong and even, you will decrease your chances of getting hurt. According to Jade and Sharine’s evaluation, my left psoas muscle (in the hip flexor area) is weaker than my right one. This makes perfect sense, considering the epidurals were in the L4 and L5 vertebrae.

Although these jars can be quite jarring and I was a little alarmed by the dark circles they left on my hips and neck, I will admit the end result was successful: my tightness dissipated. Was I completely healed after one session? No. But I noticed a significant change. Verdict: try cupping!

Let me know if ya do :)

- Sarah

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